Thursday, 28 January 2010

Гендерной Программы

Uzbek photographer Umida Akhmedova was arrested in Tashkent last month, after police claimed that her photographs insulted Uzbekistan. She has directed several controversial documentaries, though the formal charges relate to a book of her photos, titled Гендерной Программы Посольства Швейцарии, published in 2007.


Saturday, 23 January 2010

Only In New York

Only In New York
Only In New York: Photographs From Look Magazine, edited by Donald Albrecht and Thomas Mellins, is the catalogue of an exhibition of images from the Museum of the City of New York archives. It features photos of New York from the 1940s-1950s taken by staff photographers from Look magazine, including Stanley Kubrick.

Some of Kubrick's contact sheets featuring images of the Copacabana nightclub are included, as are several of his portraits of Walter Cartier (the subject of his film Day Of The Fight), Rocky Graziano, Rosemary Williams, and others. Selections of Kubrick's Look photos have previously been published in several books: Ladro Di Sguardi (direct reproductions from published Look layouts), Still Moving Pictures (an exhibition catalogue), and Drama & Shadows.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Cinema 2000-2009

My favourite films of the decade, in chronological order:
  • Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000)
  • Tears Of The Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, 2000)
  • Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001)
  • Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002)
  • City Of God (Fernando Meirelles & Katia Lund, 2002)
  • OldBoy (Park Chan-Wook, 2003)
  • Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)
  • Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004)
  • Cache (Michael Haneke, 2005)
The worst movie of the decade:
  • Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (Michael Bay, 2009)

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Melanz Ostateczny

Prosecutors in Poland are considering bringing charges against the Sklot nightclub in Warsaw, after it distributed flyers depicting Adolf Hitler. The Hitler drawing was being used to promote a club night, Melanz Ostateczny, which will take place on 20th February, though images glorifying Nazism are illegal in Poland.

(Last year, Ottmar Horl was threatened with prosecution in Germany, when his Nazi gnome was shown in Nuremberg. However, he was not prosecuted, and he subsequently displayed 1,200 Nazi gnomes in Straubing.)

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Orson Welles At Work

Orson Welles At Work
Orson Welles At Work, by Jean-Pierre Berthome and Francois Thomas, was originally published in French, as Orson Welles Au Travail. The production histories of Welles's films are accompanied by large production stills, storyboards, and annotated script pages, using materials obtained from archival research.

There is a detailed Welles bibliography and filmography, and a brief chronology. Jonathan Rosenbaum's Discovering Orson Welles features a comparable filmography; Peter Bogdanovich's This Is Orson Welles has a more detailed chronology (compiled by Rosenbaum), plus appendices on The Magnificent Ambersons and Touch Of Evil. The ...At Work series also includes Bill Krohn's acclaimed Hitchcock At Work, about Alfred Hitchcock.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Time Out Film Guide 2010

Time Out Film Guide 2010
The eighteenth edition of the Time Out Film Guide (labelled 2010 though published last year) contains 500 new capsule film reviews, edited by John Pym (who took over from Tom Milne), and written by distinguished critics including Gilbert Adair, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Mark Kermode.

18,500 films are reviewed in total, mostly taken from Time Out magazine's London cinema listings. While two other annual guides (Radio Times Guide To Films and VideoHound's Golden Movie Retriever) include more reviews, they are largely restricted to mainstream films, in contrast to Time Out's unique emphasis on arthouse cinema. Time Out is also the only major guide to resist star-ratings. Unfortunately, though, its thematic index has now been discontinued. (As a substitute, VideoHound includes extensive thematic indexes; the excellent Halliwell's Film Guide has apparently ceased publication, after its awful Movies That Matter edition.)

This new edition reviews thirty-six films which were screened at Cannes last year - including Antichrist ("as wildly implausible as it is provocatively gruesome"), Broken Embraces ("self-reflective melodrama"), Inglourious Basterds ("wild and childish revisionist revenge fantasy"), and Enter The Void ("swirling camerawork, hallucinatory sense of real time and narrative maelstrom of sex, drugs and death") - though they are not yet incorporated into the main alphabetical reviews section.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Psycho In The Shower

Psycho In The Shower
Psycho In The Shower
Psycho In The Shower: The History Of Cinema's Most Famous Scene (previously published as The Shower Scene In Hitchcock's Psycho), by Philip J Skerry, is a study of the Psycho shower scene (the eponymous Moment Of Psycho that David Thomson also discusses in his recent book). Except, of course, you can't write a whole book about one scene, even if it is the greatest scene since Battleship Potemkin's 'Odessa Steps' montage; thus, discussion of the shower scene is supplemented by interviews with Psycho cast and crew, precursors in Hitchcock's filmography, reactions from viewers, subsequent cultural references, and even an anecdotal account of the author's research process. Like Thomson, Skerry gives a detailed account of the film's first half though loses interest in the exposition after the shower scene.

Skerry tabulates the shower scene into a series of acts and shots, which reads like a maths textbook: "in this shot, and in the next shot, number 13, which is an almost exact duplicate of number 12"... zzzz. The extended interviews with star Janet Leigh, writer Joseph Stefano, and assistant director Hilton Green are much more interesting. Skerry attempts to debunk some of the rumours which have built up around Psycho, though in doing so he politely contradicts the conflicting accounts of his interviewees. He uses film stills to demonstrate that a knife does cut Leigh's skin in a split-second shot, and that her breasts are visible behind the opaque shower curtain.

The book also contains a previously unpublished photograph of a shot which was cut from all known prints of the film: Leigh's body-double, Marli Renfro, slumped naked over the bath. For Psycho fans, this exclusive photo automatically makes the book worth buying. In his valiant search for "the ur-Psycho", Skerry viewed laserdisc, VHS, DVD, and off-air versions of the film for comparison, though he is apparently unaware of the uncensored print which has been repeatedly broadcast on European TV.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Moment Of Psycho

The Moment Of Psycho
In his new book, The Moment Of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America To Love Murder, David Thomson (author of the surprisingly good Have You Seen...?) claims that Psycho, released in 1960, symbolises the transition from an apparently innocent 1950s to the violence and sexual freedoms of the 1960s. Thomson sees Psycho not only as a milestone in the relaxation of film censorship (leading to Bonnie & Clyde, The Wild Bunch, etc.), but also as a cultural precursor of increasing violence in society (JFK's assassination; the Vietnam war).

I've seen Psycho more times than I can remember; Hitchcock's low-budget shocker, in which Marion Crane steals $40,000 and is murdered in the shower by Norman Bates, is an ideal case study for anyone interested in filmmaking or film analysis. It arguably epitomises the shift from classical to post-classical Hollywood, and indeed David Bordwell divides Hollywood history into pre-1960 (The Classical Hollywood Cinema) and post-1960 (The Way Hollywood Tells It).

Thomson pays particular attention to the first half of Psycho, up to and including the shower scene. He notes the fatalism in Marion's relationship with her lover, and especially savours the parlour conversation between Marion and Norman ("One needs to see this scene several times to catch all the nuances"). However, he's disappointed by the unconvincing plot device (Norman's schizophrenia) in the film's second act, which, he writes, "is as fabricated and spurious as the first hour is solid and resonant".

The Moment Of Psycho, at less than 200 pages, feels like an extended essay with a lot of padding: a production history of The Birds, a mainly expository summary of Psycho's first half, capsule reviews of films influenced by Psycho, and even a chapter on American highways. It would be more satisfying as a single fifty-page chapter, minus the superfluous digressions.

Appropriately enough, Psycho is one of the most analysed films in cinema history. Raymond Durgnat's scene-by-scene analysis (A Long Hard Look At Psycho), Richard J Anobile's visual guide (The Film Classics Library: Psycho), Stephen Rebello's comprehensive production history (Alfred Hitchcock & The Making Of Psycho), and Philip J Skerry's new study of the shower scene (Psycho In The Shower) are also worth reading.

Saturday, 2 January 2010


Bruno is a spoof documentary starring Sasha Baron Cohen as the eponymous central character. It was directed by Larry Charles, who also made several episodes of the excellent Curb Your Enthusiasm.

An early scene featuring a pilot for the fake TV show A-List Celebrity Max Out is hilariously obscene and tasteless ("Keep it or abort it?"; "Bruno!"). Unfortunately, the remainder of the film is little more than a remake of the similarly episodic Borat (also directed by Charles), with the main character supposedly abandoned by his sidekick. The sketches become more drawn-out, less funny, and less plausible as the film goes on.